Specialist schools: nurturing special talents
– Stefan Anderson, Principal of Tring Park School for the Performing Arts
Hardly a day goes by when we are not confronted by a tale in the press of yet another young person who has won a ‘talent’ competition and is about to become the next big star of the West End. There is often a perception that these young performers have ‘come from nowhere’. There is sometimes truth in this, but more often it is the result of hard work and dedication from an extremely young age.
We are all familiar with the small child who is desperate to start ballet lessons or burning to play the violin. This might be a whim or it could be the first step in a process that may lead to the stage or the concert platform many years later. It is a process that requires enormous dedication and commitment from the child – and sensitive support from parents and teachers.
If a child shows a particular talent in any of the performing arts, great care must be taken to find the best and most appropriate teacher who can support and develop the child’s particular skills. In the case of dance or music it is vital that early technical training is of the highest standard; many young people have had their hopes of achieving their goals dashed because poor technical training has hampered their development to such a degree that it becomes impossible to catch up at a later stage so demanding are the rigours and the competition.
It is sad but true that many highly talented youngsters feel like outsiders (and are often bullied) in mainstream education because they are perceived as ‘different’ by their peers. These youngsters have to spend hours of their day practising and taking classes, which makes it harder for them to maintain a broad circle of friends.
Strong academic education
If you are the parent of a child aged eight or over who is showing signs of exceptional talent in any of the performing arts, you should consider a school that provides her/him with access to the highest standard of vocational training. Full account should be taken of the fact that these professions are precarious and fraught with the risk of injury or the whims of casting agents and audition processes. This means that the vocational training should be accompanied by a strong academic education, which will provide the balance required to maximise your child’s potential and develop him/her as a well-rounded individual who is also equipped for life outside the artistic world.
Music and Dance Scheme
If your job takes you away at a moment’s notice to a country where access to this specialist training is at best limited or at worst non-existent, then it makes sense to consider one of the boarding schools that are supported by the government’s Music and Dance Scheme (MDS), which was started in 1981. The diversity of these schools means that parents and children can choose between schools that specialise in a single discipline (e.g. music schools like Chetham’s or the Purcell School for Young Musicians), ballet schools such as the Royal Ballet School or Elmhurst School for Dance, or schools that offer broader performing arts options such as Tring Park School for the Performing Arts, which offers vocational training in dance, drama, musical theatre or commercial music. These schools vary in size and location – some are in rural settings, while others are embedded in the heart of a city centre. Many are also day schools and all are co-educational.
Choir schools play a significant part in the musical life of the nation. The Choir School Scholarship Scheme was set up in 1991 to help boys and girls from lower-income families wishing to train at any of the 36 independent choir schools in England. The scheme facilitates access by talented children to the opportunities available, while maintaining Britain’s renowned choral heritage.
For each child who has a unique talent, there is a specialist school to train, educate and support them. It is an education that will give them the confidence and the versatility to achieve at a high level – either within or outside the world of the performing arts.
Stefan Anderson has been Principal of Tring Park School for the Performing Arts since 2002. He was previously Director of Music at the King’s School, Canterbury, and before that Assistant Director of Music at Wellington College. His musical specialism is choral conducting.